Jaylen Warren is the Ideal Running Back Target in Zero RB Builds

Jul 05, 2024
Jaylen Warren is the Ideal Running Back Target in Zero RB Builds

What’s not to love about a committee back in one of the league’s (potentially) worst offenses? That’s what we are looking at when on the clock and considering Steelers RB Jaylen Warren, but as RB24, could we actually be looking at a solid value? He finished as RB30 last year in an offense with Kenny Pickett under center and Matt Canada calling plays for half of the season. With a revamped offense outside of the running back room and a new offensive philosophy, Jaylen Warren has a role and opportunity that we should be targeting.

Click here for more 2024 Player Profiles!

New-Look Offense for 2024

The 2023 Steelers offense was hamstrung by possibly the worst quarterback-offensive coordinator duo in the NFL with Kenny Pickett and Matt Canada. Ironically, the team never had 400 yards of offense in a game Matt Canada coached, but in the first game after he was fired they did.

QB Kenny Pickett was traded to the Eagles to be their backup and the team replaced Pickett with the duo of Russell Wilson and Justin Fields. By all indications, it appears Russell Wilson is comfortably in the lead to be QB1. OC Matt Canada was fired in Week 11 and replaced with Arthur Smith this offseason.

We’ll get to the QB situation in a little, but focusing on the new offense under Arthur Smith is going to be the most important change of the offseason. A lot has been said about Smith’s time as the Falcons head coach and play-caller, and look, it wasn’t pretty. However, there are some encouraging signs, at least for the running game.

While the offense as a whole wasn’t great in Atlanta given the first-round talent that had been assembled, we can say both running backs —Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier— finished as Top-35 running backs, and Robinson was a fringe top-10 back. Plus, looking back at his time in Tennessee as offensive coordinator, he oversaw multiple top-10 seasons out of Derrick Henry.

With that in mind, what should we expect out of the Steelers' offense in 2024? Well, first of all, it will remain run-heavy even with an upgrade at quarterback. Second, we should expect a full-on committee between Najee Harris and Warren again. While we can’t quite say one is in the Bijan Robinson role and one is in the Tyler Allgeier role, we can and should expect a similar combined production. We should also expect Harris to get the majority of the goal-line carries and Warren to get a lot of the passing-down work, with both working in between the 20s.

Smith was asked about how the running back rotation could work and said:

Najee and Jaylen have had a lot of success in this league," Smith said. "You break it down, give or take a 17-game season, you hope to have 1100-plus plays, and if you're balanced on offense, give or take where your carries are at, nobody, even Derrick Henry, we didn't ask him to carry the ball 550 times. So there's plenty of carries to go around, whether that's traditionally or non-traditionally. But (have) been really excited to get the work of both those guys.

Can Either Quarterback Improve This Offense?

The second big question facing the Steelers is how much of an upgrade is Russell Wilson or Justin Fields over Kenny Pickett. In theory, either should be a somewhat large upgrade over Pickett. Going on the assumption that Wilson is the presumed starter, that should certainly help Jaylen Warren.

Russell Wilson, per SIS, led the league with 129 passes to running backs last season and did that in 15 games. To put that in perspective, only six quarterbacks had over 100 attempts to running backs, and the only other quarterback above 110 was Derek Carr. However, looking at Arthur Smith’s offense, if you add together Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke's totals, you have 119 attempts to the running backs, which would have been third in the league behind Wilson and Carr.

Combining Smith’s penchant for checkdowns with late-stage Russell Wilson, we should see a heavy workload in the passing game for Steelers backs. That obviously benefits Warren who basically doubled up Harris in targets last season, 74-38.

A lot of this hinges on Wilson remaining the starter. Fields is far less likely to check down. However, when you combine the check-downs with the loss of WR Diontae Johnson and the fact that the Steelers beat hasn’t mentioned Roman Wilson once since the draft, I think we can expect the running backs to be heavily utilized in the passing game after WR George Pickens.

Why Jaylen Warren over Najee Harris?

So we know the Steelers are going to be run-heavy and we know, especially with the loss of Diontae Johnson, that there isn’t a ton in the receiver room outside of George Pickens as far as people that will demand targets. Add in the injury history of Pat Freiermuth, and there is an argument to be made that Jaylen Warren could be third or fourth in the pecking order for targets on the Steelers this year.

I think there is a reasonable expectation that Warren should outscore Harris on full PPR platforms, but is still going behind him in drafts. On half-PPR sites, I see the reasoning for Harris, but there’s still a very real chance Warren can out-score him.

The Bottom Line

  • Najee Harris had his fifth-year option declined and the team has talked-up Jaylen Warren this offseason.
  • The Steelers will be more run-heavy, but should also feature the running backs heavily in the passing game.
  • We can’t assume 1-to-1 roles for the backs in Pittsburgh to Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier last year in Atlanta, but we know they will be heavily involved, and Warren will have passing-down work.
  • A lot of the hope for Warren hinges on Russell Wilson remaining the starter.
  • Warren’s a strong target, especially in Zero RB or Hero RB builds, for me at RB24, even more so on full PPR sites.
Latest Articles
Most Popular